Tile Me Pretty

One of my favorite things to do is shop the Bric-a-Brac section at thrift stores.  I am ecstatic when I find a discarded piece of unique pottery, a simple vase,  or a set of vintage place mats.

tile coaster crafts

Recently, I found this set of tiles – each one only $0.99 and in the same shade of aquamarine blue that we use as an accent color in our living room.  As I looked at them, I thought they would make terrific coasters, with a bit of modification.

I stopped at Michael’s to pick up an 8×10 piece of dark brown felt (our coffee table is  a walnut brown, so thought it would be good to go with a darker color so the felt wouldn’t be noticeable) for only $0.29.

Here’s what you do:

tile coaster crafts

  • Cut felt to match the measurements of the underside of tile.  I stayed a few millimeters short of the edge so the felt would be hidden.  In this case, my felt pieces were 4 1/8″ and my tiles were 4 1/4″.
  • Use a hot glue gun to secure the felt to the tile.   I started by securing the middle first, then glued the edges, one long corner at a time.  Stay near the edge of the tile so the felt is completely secured without any gaps.
    tile coaster crafts
  • Trim away any excess glue  and VOILA! instant coaster! Use them as a household decoration for yourself, or make a chic and homemade housewarming gift for a friend.

Tip: You could also use thin cork matting as a backing.  Felt was less expensive and, I found, adapted to the ridges of the tile better.

Cost: $4.50 for a set our four coasters! Now that is a thrifty craft!

Green Go Bragh

The March 2009 issue of Martha Stewart got me all excited to host a St. Patrick’s Day gathering at our house this year. Not only does the issue have a recipe for what looks to be quite delicious Irish soda bread, it also has a recipe for brining your own corned beef! Too bad it takes 2 weeks to make – maybe next year?

decorative entertaining

While I love being in the kitchen, I get very excited to entertain and set the scene.  Especially when the color scheme is varying shades of green!  Hitting up my favorite bargain shopping havens for new green linens?  It really doesn’t get any better than this!

I started at the Crate and Barrel outlet and scored some fabulous green textural placemats  for $2.95 each. It is so hard to restrain oneself in that place! Everything is so much cheaper than in the retail stores. But I digress…

Green linen napkins were found at Ross for $2.99 for 4!  Go next door to Bed, Bath & Beyond and they cost $3.99 each! They are very similar in style to the Pottery Barn Linen Hemstitch napkins, but much less expensive!

To incorporate gold, I used basic gold chargers that I picked up at Big Lots.  Only $6 for a set of four.  They aren’t the best quality, but since most of the charger is covered with a plate and I really just wanted a *pop* of gold color, they worked out great.

To finish my place setting, I wanted some napkin rings but wasn’t really finding anything I liked. Then I thought, what better piece de resistance than a simple single shamrock placed at each setting? I had already purchased little shamrock pots at Trader Joe’s for decoration throughout the house, so simply snipped one for each setting.

bargain place setting

Here’s the final spirited, yet classy tablescape, for $5.25 per setting:

bargain table setting

Tip: Snip your shamrocks just before guests arrive.  Unfortunately, the shamrocks will wilt, so make sure everyone sees your creativity before they sit down to dinner.

Sweet Greens

Baking makes me very happy, if only because I get to use my fabulous Kitchen Aid mixer. Around the different holidays of the year, I like to bake cookies and cupcakes for my family, friends and staff at work. What a great way to show your appreciation without spending a bunch of money!

shamrock pot

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day this year, I made Martha Stewart ‘s Perfect Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing and tried out the recipe for Vanilla, Vanilla cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream frosting from Billy’s Bakery in New York. Needless to say, they were a hit!

The cupcake recipe was found at a great little blog, 52 cupcakes. I have to agree with the cupcake queen, these are fabulous! I made the cupcakes in gold foil baking cups and decorated them with little shamrock picks I found at Michael’s and green sprinkles. Delicious AND adorable!

billy's bakery vanilla cupcakes

Billy’s Vanilla, Vanilla Cupcakes

Makes about 30 cupcakes
1 3/4 cups cake flour, not self-rising
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt; mix on low speed until combined. Add butter, mixing until just coated with flour.

2. In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together eggs, milk, and vanilla. With mixer on medium speed, add wet ingredients in 3 parts, scraping down sides of bowl before each addition; beat until ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat.

3. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about two-thirds full. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 17 to 20 minutes.

4. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat process with remaining batter. Once cupcakes have cooled, use a small offset spatula to frost tops of each cupcake. Decorate with sprinkles, if desired. Serve at room temperature.

Billy’s Vanilla Buttercream

vanilla cupcake recipe

Makes enough for 30 cupcakes

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 6 to 8 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. With mixer on low speed, add 6 cups sugar, milk, and vanilla; mix until light and fluffy. If necessary, gradually add remaining 2 cups sugar to reach desired consistency.

Martha Stewart’s Perfect Sugar Cookies

sugar cookie recipe

Makes 2 dozen

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons brandy, or milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar; add dry ingredients, and mix until incorporated. With mixer running, add egg, brandy (or milk), and vanilla; mix until incorporated.
  2. Transfer dough to a work surface. Shape into 2 discs, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper; set aside.
  4. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes, and transfer to prepared baking sheets, leaving an inch in between. Leftover dough can be rolled and cut once more. Bake until lightly golden, about 10 minutes; do not allow to brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool.
  5. Decorate with Royal Icing, optional.

Martha Stewart’s Royal Icing

Makes 2 1/3 cups

  • 1 box confectioners’ sugar (1 pound)
  • 5 tablespoons meringue powder
sugar cookie favor
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar and meringue powder. Mixing on low speed, add a scant 1/2 cup water. For a thinner consistency, usually used for flooding, add more water. A thicker consistency is generally used for outlining and adding details. Mix until icing holds a ribbonlike trail on the surface of the mixture for 5 seconds when you raise the paddle.

Remarks: As for Martha’s cookies, I still need to master my flooding technique. Otherwise, people seem to like the flavor of the cookie (even though royal icing pretty much tastes like powdered sugar).  I’ve made them with brandy and with milk.  It seemed to me that the ones with brandy were easier to roll out and less sticky.

To finish, place two cookies in decorative clear bags. I wrote “You’re my Lucky Charm” on the bags – a neat treat for staff to show your appreciation.

Paella on the cheap

Polished Steel Paella Pan, Myson Products

I craft and eat thriftily so I can afford to shop at places like Williams-Sonoma for my cooking vessels. During one of their holiday sales, I picked up an authentic Spanish paella pan for $29.95 and have been pining to use it.

The other night, my husband and I threw on some Spainsh guitar acoustics, sipped on a Spanish Verdejo and whipped up some tasty paella from a Food & Wine recipe. This recipe has a very light flavor with the lemon, wine and parsley and is perfect for a warm evening.

Seafood and Chicken Paella with Chorizo

Ingredients (seves 6)

  • 4 ounces fresh chorizo, casings removed
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • Pinch of saffron threads dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 1/2 pound cockles, scrubbed and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chicken (8 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a 10-inch paella pan or ovenproof skillet, cook the chorizo over moderate heat, breaking it up with a spoon, until some of the fat is rendered and the chorizo is browned, 4 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook over low heat, stirring, until softened and just beginning to brown, 8 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, rice, saffron with its liquid and the 1 1/2 cups of water. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, without stirring, until the rice is al dente and the liquid is absorbed, 15 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the 1/4 cup of olive oil until shimmering. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper, add them to the skillet and cook over high heat, turning once, until pink and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to the rice. Discard the oil.
  3. Wipe out the skillet. Pour in the wine and lemon juice. Add the mussels and cockles, cover and cook, shaking the skillet, until the mussels open, about 3 minutes. Pour the mussels and cockles and their cooking liquid over the rice.
  4. Stir the cooked chicken into the rice. Cover and cook in the oven for about 5 minutes, until the paella is just heated through. Garnish with the parsley and scallion, drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and serve.

Seafood and Chicken Paella with Chorizo

Cooking Tips: We omitted the cockles and mussels (for shame!) due to the fact that neither of us like them as much as other seafood AND they weren’t on sale. We ended up putting the white wine and lemon juice in with the shrimp instead. The taste was great, but we like to cook our shrimp in their shells for appearance and the casings weren’t as crisp as we like them. Next time, I think we’ll add the wine and lemon juice at the same time as the rice mixture.

We also left the casings on the chorizo, only because they weren’t coming off very easily, and just sliced them into coins.

Shopping Tips: Again, buy your proteins when on sale! The shrimp and chorizo were on sale and the chicken was purchased previously for $1.99/lb. Buy your spices (like saffron) at stores like Trader Joe’s, Cost Plus or local ethnic food stores for the best prices.